Cold Start and Compellance: A Tenuous Linkage


“The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.” Liddel Hart 

Concepts, doctrines and methods of war  are shaped by strategic cultures and thoughts. Besides the anatomy of the enemy also significantly impacts doctrinal evolution. War has to have an objective. In the words of Clausewitz  “Fighting is the central military act…  the object of fighting is the destruction and defeat of the enemy. Clausewitz then further goes on to explain the meaning of defeat. His treatises, albeit old are still relevant especially when armies plan for conventional war. Militaries around the world devise strategies and subordinate tactics to defeat enemies in various forms and manifestations. Same goes for the Indian Army which is embroiled in developing concepts to thwart threats to the state and the citizens of India.

India perceives Pakistan to be a rogue state; one that is “exporting terrorism”. India also blames Pakistan of being behind terrorist attacks in India to include the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai. The aim of India is to “compel” and “deter”. This piece will assess  the impact of the  infamously famous “Cold Start Doctrine” on “compellance theory“. The write up will not discuss deterrence.

Thomas Schelling coined the term “compellance” alluding to threats to make the adversary do something. India thus intends to compel Pakistan to clamp-down on militant groups which are believed to be given state patronage by the latter. It is often said that it is harder to compel than to deter. This becomes all the more difficult and obfuscating when the conflict spectrum and the escalation ladder has a nuclear rung in it. How could a limited war proactive strategy colloquially known as Cold Start compel Pakistan to act in-line with India’s accord?  

Two factors compelled the Indian military to shift away  from the Sundarji Doctrine towards one of a limited war: one was the overt nuclearization of India and Pakistan and the other was the abysmally slow mobilization during Operation Parakram. Much to the chagrin, this allowed not only Pakistan to counter mobilize but also invoke international pressure. The feeling was that Pakistan was not taught a lesson and went “scot free“. 

With rapidity lying at its heart, Cold Start called for a reorganization of the old Holding and Strike corps. The former would create shallow bridgeheads into Pakistani territory. It would be followed by Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) attacking along various axes to further penetrate inside Pakistan. Thereafter, in conjunction with air succor the 3 strike corps would concentrate firepower. In order to avoid a nuclear retaliation, forces will bite and hold territory upto 25 kilometres inside Pakistan. 

The escalatory nature of this doctrine will have an impact on deterrence and the nuclear threshold but its effect on compellance needs to be carefully analyzed. 

Compellance hinges upon a credible military option which would encourage the enemy to take a different course. Under the nuclear umbrella, it is rather difficult to punish and frighten without aggravating the engagement to the highest end of the conflict spectrum. Given the aims of Cold Start, holding territory is a compellant threat. However, the efficacy of this in compelling Pakistan is less. One that it could do exactly the opposite: Indian invasion may very well be repelled by the Pakistani military and alleged militants in unison. Besides, it will give credence to Pakistan's long-held views about India being the aggressor. Major Pakistani cities like Lahore and Sialkot are well within 25 kilometers distance mandated in the proactive strategy. Indian annexation of these cities would exert pressure on the escalation ladder and hence compellance would not be achieved.The second threat is elicited from Clausewitzian theory, for he also focused on impeding the enemy’s war waging capabilities. Attrition through escalation may actually be a blow to Indian compellance drive. A weakened army will be bolstered by invaluable support  from irregulars. It could invoke a “nation in arms“ response. Even otherwise an enfeebled military will then have no means to rein –in anti Indian elements and sentiments .

In sum, it could be argued that this army-centric proactive strategy will not be effective at the strategic level in compelling Pakistan to stop its alleged support of non-state actors. There are multifarious issues at the tactical and operational level which makes the conduct of these operations rather untenable, to say the least. The nuclear shadow and the pressures on various rungs makes escalation dominance and war termination hard to attain, but that merits a separate piece.